31 July 2015
Posted in Articles
Each Friday, Horse Nation teams up with Ovation Riding to spotlight an individual or organization doing good work in the horse world. This week’s honoree: Red Bucket Rescue.
Susan Peirce, founder and president of Red Bucket Equine Rescue of Chino Hills, California, kindly took time to answer our questions and describe the program. Red Bucket Equine Rescue was formed as 501(c) 3 non-profit organization in 2009 after Susan single-handedly rescued a Thoroughbred filly she named Harlow in 2008: in Susan’s words, “it took me six and a half hours to catch her, but once I did, I never let go.” Red Bucket’s formal mission is “to save and rehabilitate horses, restore their trust in humankind, and find them safe, loving, permanent adoptive homes.”
Where are your horses coming from? Do you focus specifically on one breed, or particular type of case?
Our first year, we had 73 bay Thoroughbreds and one Quarter horse! But now our horses range from drafts to donkeys — we don’t discriminate. We take in abuse cases that were seized by animal control; we also take in a lot of abandoned or stray horses. Some come off the track, many are slaughter-bound. Most of these horses have endured horrific abuse. Many of our horses come from a common background: that their former owners wanted to “get rid of it.”
How many horses do you have under your care, on average?
We typically handle anywhere from 135 to 250 horses. We have a ranch in Chino Hills where about 100 horses live; we also lease a pasture about 25 miles away for horses who need downtime. We also lease a quarantine facility for incoming horses. It’s a big, big operation.
Where does your funding come from?
Our funding comes almost entirely through donations; grants are very competitive but we do receive some grant money from the ASPCA, for which we are very grateful. I send many personal letters and give personal tours of the facility so donors can see our operation first-hand and meet the horses. Press, whether it’s through TV or print media or the internet, is our greatest ally for raising awareness of what we do, so I always send an article about our organization with our letters.
We have our big fundraiser on October 24; we tent off the arena and hold a live auction. That money is earmarked towards the second mortgage on our ranch property. For day-to-day expenses, we have the Drop in the Bucket campaign, where donors can sign up to donate just $5 a month. While this is a huge operation, those little donations add up.
How are the horse people of southern California faring in this year’s drought? Are you seeing the effects?
We are bracing ourselves. We won’t see the effects right away, but the drought will definitely make things worse. Honestly, many of our rescues weren’t being fed properly even before the drought — the average weight gain at Red Bucket is 300 pounds. So down the road, this drought and rising hay prices will make rescue conditions much, much worse.
With that many horses under your care, Red Bucket is a huge operation. What sets you apart from other rescues?
My “day job” is helping to develop small businesses, and that kind of business knowledge is critical for the rescue. Our model is different from the turn-over model that’s practiced at many rescues: they want to save as many horses as quickly as possible. We want to save as many horses as we can too, but we also believe that we have a responsibility to those horses for their entire lives. We want to reduce the rate of return for rescue horses — the frequency with which they are sent back to the organization that adopted them out.
Our motto is “rescue is only the beginning.” There’s an adrenaline rush when you rescue a horse, but then there’s also the sensation of “well … now what?” Our average length of stay for an adoptable horse is about two years — that’s a long time. But a rescued horse needs time to get healthy, both physically and emotionally. His confidence needs to be restored, not only in humans but in himself. We’re rewriting the horse’s script — no horse will leave Red Bucket until it’s been retrained. Young horses go to the “Charm Farm” to learn basic handling, and our trainer provides additional under-saddle training to mature horses.
It’s also critical that potential adopters fit our program and the individual horses — they will be partnered for life. We offer free riding lessons to make sure people and horses are well-matched; we also offer field visits to help with problems that might develop at home. We want to remove every barrier to a horse finding a safe, loving forever home.